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A Partial Cake Bible
on January 12, 2004
There are many cake cookbooks available, but I am not comfortable with recommending any of them. The Cake Bible by Beranbaum is the only one I can recommend without reservation, as the recipes and techniques all work. On the whole, I like this book quite a bit and use it fairly often as a reference.
The author has done wedding cakes professionally for many years, and this cookbook is a compendium of tried and true recipes that she has used. This is both good and bad. These are baking recipes that are battle tested and ones that you can rely upon, especially on special occassions. On the other hand, it is a very personal collection of production recipes, and you will not find several common cake types because she has not done them in her professional experience.
Several recipe types, such as butter cakes, genoise, and buttercreams, are very different from the usual ones that you will find in other baking books. This is because they are a record of the author's efforts, and not just a mechanical recapitulation of standard patissierie recipes. The procedures at first seemed to be unnecessarily finicky, and had a few extra steps that did not seem to be necessary. On the other hand, I had no problems with any of the ones I tried. The procedures are often unique; while the results were not better than standard recipes, they can, in some cases, be slightly easier to execute than standard recipes, which are more prone to failure by the home baker.
The arrangement of the cakes chapter is particularly useful. It assumes that you will work methodically through the chapter, baking each cake as you go, and not just pick out recipes at random. It lists pound cakes first, and ends up with genoise-type cakes, which makes more sense than the usual order, which is the other way around; foam-based cakes are the most difficult.
Interestingly, only the first 160 pages of this 550 page book relates to cakes. 60 pages go to showcase cakes, 200 pages to decoration, fillings and frostings, 50 pages to ingredients and equipment, and 70 pages for professionals (including extensive insturctions of wedding cakes; I cannot vouch for this section, since I have never made a wedding cake).
There are some criticisms, but they are mostly ones of omission. Many of the page references are wrong. I object to the suggestion of leaving eggs and chocolate in a warm oven overnight to get them to the proper temperature. Cornstarch is substituted for part of the flour in genoise, but this was not any better than just straight flour. The instructions for waffles are for an old-fashioned, stove top iron and not an electric one. The instructions for making the rose trellis are incomplete. The table of contents need to be more detailed. The chapter subheadings in Part III are used inconsistently. The flavor-cake-filling-frosting combinations the author suggests are not the classic ones; you will need another patissierie book if you need the traditional ones. On the positive side, all the wedding cakes described have pictures. There are several different recipes for chocolate genoise (including one without added butter), one of my favorites. There is also an old fashioned mayonnaise cake. The 2 pancake recipes are ones with whipped egg whites, but none with the plain old baking powder.
The only reservation I have is that this book is not all that friendly or instructive for beginners. For them, I would suggest that you bake some cakes from the first 150 page section and ignore the rest of the book until you become more advanced, making sure that you go through this section in order rather than skipping around.